MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine men’s national basketball team treated its home crowd to an emphatic drubbing of visitors Saudi Arabia on Monday, August 29, spearheaded by the stellar play of Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto.
Like they did in the previous contest against Lebanon three days earlier, Clarkson and Sotto played well off each other by syncing on pick-and-rolls and delivering more transition highlights for the FIBA Asian Qualifiers’ reels.
Clarkson himself benefited from using the defensive gravity Sotto’s size draws to find opportunistic scoring opportunities.
In an ideal world, the Clarkson-Sotto combination would be consistently available to the Gilas program, even at least for just the major tournaments – like the World Cup – in the years to come.
In that hypothetical world, it would be intriguing to find out if we would still see a better version of this budding dynamic duo, given that Clarkson, 30, and Sotto, 20, have room to improve as basketball players, mentally or physically.
The easy bet from the two, if made to choose, would be Kai, who’s only one year removed from being a teenager, and still a year away from being legally allowed to buy a beer in the United States. His strength will still develop, his physique will still grow, and his understanding of the game will flourish, among other developments.
Clarkson, who’s been around a fair share of top-tier NBA-level teammates, sees the same for his national teammate.
“[Kai’s] very skilled, can catch the ball, space the floor, put the ball on the ground, and make plays. He can shoot as well,” Clarkson said in the post-game presser.
“The sky is the limit for him. He just has to continue to put the work in [and] keep making strides in his career path.”
Sotto finished the game against Saudi Arabia with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He shot 4-of-10 from the field but also 8-of-11 from the foul stripe. His size was an issue for KSA in the 22 minutes he played, during which Gilas outscored its opponents by as many points.
“Kai is in a position to make plays and score in the paint now,” Clarkson stated.
The 7-foot-3 Filipino scored as a roll man to the rim and lob-finisher, and feasted on offensive rebounds to draw trips to the charity stripe. He protected the rim on the other end whether he was involved in the initial coverage or as a help defender from the weakside.
There were moments his presence alone deterred the opponents from attempting a shot.
It was an impressive performance for a blossoming talent who looks more impressive with each passing year.
“A lot of that for me is communicating with Kai as well. [I] and coach [Chot Reyes] talk to him a lot. We see teams start to double-team him,” the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year explained.
“I didn’t make it to the league until I was 21, 22 years old,” he later reminisced after remembering Sotto is only 20 years old, “so he has time (to make it to the NBA).”
The former Ateneo Blue Eaglet went unselected in the 2022 NBA Draft, which paved the way for an upcoming second stint in Australia’s National Basketball League, where he’ll play for the Adelaide 36ers.
It’s not impossible for international players to eventually make it in the NBA despite not getting drafted. As a second-round pick who worked his way to an eight-figure dollar contract, Clarkson is a great example for Sotto on the possibility of elevating your abilities.
“He’s going to Australia right now, playing against pros at a young age, and really learning the game,” Clarkson said.
“I’m proud of Kai. When I first saw him coming out of high school and seeing him now, he’s taken steps in the right direction, so I’m happy for him, and I can’t wait to see him continue to grow.”
Both players did some growing of their own on Monday – as teammates, with arms raised in victory, and in front of hopefuls in the crowd, dreaming of what could be. – Rappler.com